Planning commission debates role in open space plan | RecordCourier.com
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Planning commission debates role in open space plan

by Christy Chalmers

Confused about their mission and frustrated by their inaction on open space preservation efforts, four Douglas County Planning Commissioners decided Tuesday to form a subcommittee to tackle the issue.

The decision came a month after two county commissioners told the advisory board that open space is a crucial effort that deserves extra time and attention, and suggested the planning commission should undertake those efforts.

Over lunch before the planning meeting, four of the planning commissioners interrogated County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen about what their mission should be. The planning commission is officially charged with advising the county commission on planning issues, but hasn’t had a major project to focus on since the 1996 master plan update was finished.

“We need direction,” said Planning Commissioner Valida McMichael. “Some of us see this as if we fail, we get the blame and if we succeed, you get the credit.”

Others said they don’t want to duplicate efforts by a private coalition of residents and groups that is trying to rally support for preserving open space and agricultural land at the grassroots level.

Plus, Planning Commissioner Ame Hellman said, the effort will depend on upholding those 1996 master plan policies to keep open space open. Hellman, who works for the American Land Conservancy, is also a leader of the private coalition.

“That’s the perception, that historically, if you want a zone change, you just go to the politicians,” she said, referring to requests for dramatic changes in approved land uses.

The frustration mounted during the group’s regular meeting, when Dave Bolick, chairman of the private open space coalition, said his group expected to lead efforts on public education about land preservation and build support for the effort.

“We were just trying to tag along and add a few things in there that you’ll find acceptable, to try to help with public education,” he said. “If we keep good contact and keep each other informed, I think it will work out OK.”

“I think we’ve been tasked already, and I think it’s our role to do that,” responded Planning Commissioner Jay Lather.

“You can’t go gung ho out in the community until you know what our goals and objectives are,” countered Planning Commissioner Rick Gardner. “Somebody has to tell us what it is Dave’s doing and what it is we’re doing.”

“We don’t need other people to sit and tell the Planning Commission how to proceed,” replied McMichael. “We should be telling other people how we’re going to proceed.”

McMichael and Virginia Henningsen opposed the eventual decision to form a three-person subcommittee responsible for reviewing open space issues and forming goals and a meeting schedule on the matter.

“I really believe seven minds brainstorming is better than three,” said McMichael.

“The fact that we have a subcommittee is not to do the thinking for the group. It’s to do the logistics,” said Lather, who supported the move. “I feel if we just have another volunteer group, it won’t get done.”

The subcommittee will include Hellman, Lather and Planning Commission Chairman Mike Hayes, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting.